Thursday, April 22, 2021

Handyman by Gary Egan

A couple of youngsters are at the top of the wheelchair ramp outside the green door 

belonging to the Samaritans. Far from being distressed, the lads are enjoying themselves by taking it in turns to whizz down the slope on their skateboards. For once the government can’t be accused of skating around the issue. The legislation to ensure disabled access to public buildings has long since been passed and this building has complied with it. Sadly the schoolboys haven’t read the memo expounding the cultural diversity ethos behind the legislation. They don’t see a ramp for wheelchair-users, they see a skateboard-friendly incline; a stage to display their athletic prowess. Neither of them is visually impaired in any way but the physical infirmity that prompted the construction of the ramp is invisible to 

them. Had it been pointed out to them they might have argued that the ramp should be a dual-purpose facility so that it benefitted disabled and able-bodied alike. After all, didn’t skateboarders have rights too? It wasn’t just the disabled who were victims of prejudice. When the local council upgraded the park they discriminated against skaters by failing to provide any facilities for them. 

     The skateboarders don’t see the man in the wheelchair watching them from across the road, though he’s been there for some time. Every so often they exclaim in a language he can’t understand:

     “Gnarly!”

     “Gnarlacious!”

     “Gnarladocious!”

     A passer-by wearing horn-rimmed glasses and ear-muffs glances at the skaters but doesn’t break his stride. He doesn’t notice the man in the wheelchair either. When a Samaritan who’s just finished his duty comes out he orders the lads to move along. It isn’t the first time they’d been told. They move along with the minimum of backchat but they’ll be back.


Next evening the skateboarders arrive to find the man in the wheelchair waiting. He’s planted himself in the middle of the ramp to stop them skating past. Tonight the youngsters see him. Exchanging glances, they sidle over and look down on him. The taller of the pair starts to say something but the man lunges forward, grabs the skateboard from under the boy’s arm and flings it behind his back. It hits the pavement but lands on its wheels and rolls into the gutter.

     “Hey! Leave my deck alone! You have no right –”

     “My legs might be well fucked but there’s nowt the matter with my hands. I can still do anything with my hands.” He raises his thumb and points it backwards in the direction of the discarded skateboard. “Now hoppit.”

     The youngsters hoppit. As he walks away the taller one puts his thumb and index-finger together to form an oval and points it at his head in a screwing motion. The man in the wheelchair knows they’ll be back. He releases the brake and continues up to the top of the ramp. It’s a stretch but he manages to ring the doorbell. When the door opens a Samaritan looks down on him.

     “Can I help you?”

     “I’m Jack. I’m here to do the wiring.”

Jack does all the odd jobs he’s asked and quite a few unasked. When the able-bodied are still asleep in their beds he’ll often go for a spin, armed with the tools of his trade and ready to fix whatever needed fixing. He never puts himself forward for the residents’ committee but many’s the time he’s sorted the wonky gate leading to the riverside path after the local juvies vandalized it. Like the skateboarders, they always came back. Jack tried to be discreet but the cops caught him only recently and he had his work cut out explaining the drill and the portable battery-pack in the middle of the night.

     “My legs are well fucked but there’s nowt the matter with my hands. I can still do anything with my hands.”

     Puzzled initially and perhaps a tad disappointed not to have apprehended a driller-killer, the young cop had warmed to the point where he found work for him as a metalwork tutor on a Youth Diversion scheme.

     “At least it’ll keep you off the streets.”

     The lads weren’t interested, though, and while Jack could fix most things he couldn’t fix that. By the time he was their age he’d already served two years of an apprenticeship. Their attitude was as incomprehensible to him as the skateboarders’ lingo. He packed the job in after just a week. He was a handyman, not a teacher. He had the skills but he didn’t have the language. In any case, he preferred working alone. 

     Jack was back on the streets.

He watches the ramp from across the road. It’s just the taller one tonight and all the better for Jack. He’s ready to take the law into his own hands. He wheels himself over the road. 

Pausing near the foot of the ramp, he turns his wheelchair round and bends forward. From where the skateboarder at the top of the rank is standing, he seems to be searching for something he’s dropped – first one side, then the other. A minute later Jack turns his chair and resumes his ascent at a leisurely pace. Instead of stopping half-way, this time he joins the youngster at the top. 

     “Go on then, I dare you.”

     Jack moves aside and the red-jacketed skateboarder hurtles away.

     Near the foot of the ramp, at the point of maximum speed, skater and board part company.

The skater is thrown into the air and his deck completes the run without him. Without waiting for the boy to land, Jack descends the slope at pace. Braking at the bottom, he removes the tripwire he’d attached minutes earlier to the hooks he’d inserted earlier that morning, well before the first shift. Then he unscrews the hooks too. Once these are safely concealed in his overalls pocket Jack makes his way over to where the skater has fallen. He looks down on him. The boy isn’t moving. There’s blood coming from his nose and his right leg is splayed on the pavement at an odd angle. 

     The passer-by with the horn-rimmed glasses and ear-muffs Jack recognizes from the other day stops to join them. He looks concerned.

     “What happened?”

     Jack explains, leaving out the bit about the tripwire and attributing the accident to a sharp stone.

     "Did you call an ambulance yet?”

    Jack shakes his head and the man flips open his smartphone. While he’s calling, a Samaritan on his way to a duty comes up to them. Jack repeats the story he told the passer-by. 

Suddenly the boy comes to. He tries to speak but the words are barely audible and no more comprehensible to Jack than the words he used when he was skateboarding. Then he raises his hand and points accusingly at him. Jack looks at the passer-by and shrugs.

     “Maybe the lad wants his skateboard. I’ll fetch it for him.”

     Jack turns and points his wheelchair at the lamp-post where the skateboard has come to rest upside-down. Its wheels have stopped spinning but they’re still warm. The right way up the skateboard’s design resembles a vanilla lollipop with a generous scoop of raspberry sauce poured on top but just now it looks as if the sauce has sunk to the bottom. Jack reaches down and picks it up. He examines the workmanship. He’s impressed, in spite of himself.

     Each of the polyurethane wheels is mounted on its axle by means of a couple of ballbearings and secured to the skateboard by a metal base plate. The lower part of the plate comprises a hanger through which the axle runs. The space between the top and bottom parts of the baseplate is occupied by grommets, cushioning the plate when the skateboard turns. 

Nestled inside the grommets, a kingpin bolt holds the whole caboodle together. There’s also a rod slotting into the hanger to stop it rotating around the kingpin. The space between this rod and its niche on the baseplate contains a plastic cup, which should have been filled with oil. 

Jack isn’t surprised to find the cup empty. A bad workman blames his tools but only after he’s failed to take care of them.

     He returns to where the skateboarder lies and places the board on the pavement beside him.

     “Here you are, son. Needs oiling but no damage done.”

     The boy has passed out again but the passer-by is getting restless.

     “I called the ambulance,” he says. “They should be here any minute. Would it be OK if I head on?”

     “No problem.”

     The Samaritan glances at his watch. He’s running late as well.

     “I’d better be off too. Will you stay with him till the ambulance gets here and tell them what happened?”

     Jack nods. When both men have gone he leans his face into the ex-skateboarder and grabs the lapels of his jacket.

     “My legs might be well fucked but there’s nowt the matter with my hands. I can still do anything with my hands.”

© Gary Egan

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